Program Profile

Impact Feature Issue on Consumer-Controlled Budgets and Persons with Disabilities

An Alternative to Traditional Community Support: My Experience with The Arc of NC


Buren Harrelson lives in Wilmington, North Carolina.

I would like to introduce myself to you first of all. I am Buren Harrelson and I have a disability. My disability is cerebral palsy (CP). I have been affected with CP since birth, unable to walk or physically do much for myself. Because of this, at an early age I knew that it was going to be important for me to focus on education. I was first educated in special education classroom settings and then I became mainstreamed into a regular public school classroom setting when I was eight years old, in 1978. I completed high school in 1989 and went on to community college in 1990, receiving my AA degree in general education in 1993. I then transferred to a small liberal arts college where I received my BA in business and economics in 1996. I have since gone on to hold several part-time jobs in my community. I also sit on several local boards dealing with developmental disabilities. I will not take time to list them all here, but a few of them are the Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities, First in Families of Southeastern North Carolina, and the local Home and Community-Based Waiver Approval Committee.

Now that you know a little about me, let me tell you about The Arc’s employer of record services and how I became involved. Our program is set up to be an alternative to traditional support systems, giving families and individuals with developmental disabilities more freedom to decide what types of supports they actually need and who will actually be offering those supports. I first became involved with the program in December of 2000 because I had been with several traditional providers in our community and that approach did not work for me because of the lack of freedom in choosing my support staff.

Since I have been involved in this new service I have faced a tremendous learning curve. For example, I have had to learn how to write a detailed job description, how to go through and read applications for employment, and how to actually conduct employee interviews, including learning what I can and cannot say or ask while conducting the interviews. One of the most important things that I have learned over time is that the individuals I interview may have preconceived notions about what I can and cannot do as far as my disability is concerned. It is very important, however, not to let the individual’s notions cloud the interview process in any way. I have found that the best way to handle this problem is to actually explain my individual limits. Another thing I have learned after conducting numerous interviews with different individuals is that no matter who I talk to, salary and other compensation always comes up and, depending on the individual situation, I may want to ask advice from a mentor. It is very important that I do not offer too much information regarding compensation during the first initial interview process because each employee’s rate of pay would be based on a number of factors, including qualifications, experience, and funds available in the individual budget to pay staff. With traditional provider agencies, talking about salary is not a problem because support staff are hired at a set rate, which is not left up to the individual receiving support. With The Arc’s employer of record service, individual families and persons with disabilities are given a choice on rates of pay based on individual budgets.

Traditionally, with community-based supports, individuals and/or their families are not given individual choice on how supports are directed, and are often matched up with inappropriate support persons due to either lack of training or different personalities that clash. With The Arc’s employer of record services, however, individuals are given much more control over what services and supports are needed and how these supports are to be directed. Individuals and families are free to choose their support staff, when the staff is scheduled to work, and most of the time how hours of support are to be utilized. Whereas, with traditional support services a supervisor known as a qualified developmental disabilities professional tells the families and/or individuals who they will work with and when those persons will and will not work. The supervisor will also tell the individual and/or family who they can visit out in the community, where they can go, how long they can stay in one place, and who they may or may not talk to while they are out with a direct care support person in the community. When a person has situations that does not work, particularly because of conflicts in personalities, the individual and/or their families are most often told that they must work things out with the employee already providing support, or not receive services at all for given periods of time. Also with a traditional provider agency, there are times that situations arise in which individuals are sometimes put in danger or in which potentially dangerous situations may be overlooked. With The Arc’s employer of record services, if such situations do arise, the individual and/or family is given the option to replace the employees.

One big difference between the two types of programs is individuals and/or families using the traditional approach may have employees to work with that they have never seen before, who don’t know any of the routines or habits of the individuals, or their likes and dislikes. The individual may require support eight hours a day; however, with a traditional provider, he or she might have three different individuals providing that eight hours of support. With The Arc’s employer of record services, normally if a person receives eight hours of support at once, it’s provided by someone the individual has hired who is familiar with them, and their routines, likes, and dislikes. With this program, unlike traditional provider agencies, once an individual and/or family has hired someone to offer community support, that person is not taken away from the individual to offer support to another individual without permission.

The Arc’s employer of record approach works best because individuals and families receiving services are given enough credit as people to be able to do what works best for them and their lives and in each individual situation. This program works well most of the time. However, it is important to remember that everything is not always going to run smoothly. The challenges faced in the employer of record services are very different than challenges faced with a traditional provider. Because of the increased levels of responsibility, the employer of record approach requires much more time and energy on the part of the individual receiving services. In the employer of record approach, just as with a job match, the individual must be a good fit in order for the service to work well.

In conclusion, the employer of record service works best because individual and/or family needs are looked after first instead of looking at a bottom line of a profit/loss statement as often seems the case with a traditional program. Opportunities such as the employer of record service should be made more widely available to individuals and families because individuals and families are the experts when it comes down to having their own needs met and how best to meet those needs.